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In re Estate of Amundson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 13, 2015

In the Matter of the Estate of Donald G. Amundson, Deceased,
v.
Debra Amundson Magers, Personal Representative; Andrea Rebman; Colin Leibold; Glen Rebman; Brent Amundson; Jacob Leibold; Carolyn Rebman; Eric Rebman; Charlene Leibold; Scott Amundson, Respondents and In the Matter of Donald G. Amundson Trust; Gladys Gleason, Petitioner John Widdel, Jr., Interested Party and Appellant Andrea Rebman; Colin Leibold; Glen Rebman; Jacob Leibold; Carolyn Rebman; Eric Rebman; Charlene Leibold, Appellees

Page 209

Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Donovan J. Foughty, Judge.

Sara K. Sorenson (argued) and Andrew D. Cook (on brief), West Fargo, N.D., for appellees.

Clint D. Morgenstern, Grand Forks, N.D., for appellant.

Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Daniel J. Crothers, Lisa Fair McEvers, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J.

OPINION

Page 210

Dale V. Sandstrom, Justice.

[¶1] John Widdel, Jr., appeals from a district court judgment ordering him to repay $95,000 of the attorney's fees he charged in the administration of the Donald G. Amundson Estate. He argues the district court abused its discretion in finding the attorney's fees were unreasonable. Widdel also argues the district court abused its discretion by not holding an

Page 211

evidentiary hearing on the issue of substituting his professional corporation as the named party on the judgment. We affirm the judgment of the district court, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the fees charged by Widdel were unreasonable and in finding Widdel could properly be held personally liable on the judgment.

I

[¶2] The last will and testament of Donald G. Amundson provided for his entire estate to be distributed to the Donald G. Amundson Trust. The Trust owned farmland jointly with the Kenneth Amundson Trust, which was set up by Donald Amundson's brother. Donald Amundson's Trust declaration directed the Trust assets were to be distributed upon his death to four charities, with the remainder distributed to ten nieces and nephews. Amundson died in September of 2011. Debra Magers and Gladys Gleason were initially appointed as co-personal representatives of the Estate. Magers, Gleason, and Todd Graveline were appointed as co-trustees of the Trust. Widdel represented all parties in relation to the administration of the estate. Magers eventually became sole personal representative and trustee of the Trust and Estate.

[¶3] In August 2013, the beneficiaries of the Estate petitioned for court determination of reasonableness of fees and for settlement and distribution of estate. The petition objected to the fees charged by Magers and Widdel for their services to the Estate and Trust. In September 2014, the district court found Magers had breached her fiduciary duty in several ways, which included paying Widdel large fees without question. The court also found administration of the Estate and Trust was not complicated and Widdel's fees were unreasonable in light of the nature of the work performed. The court ordered Widdel to return attorney's fees in the amount of $95,000.

[¶4] Widdel moved to amend the judgment, substituting the party named in the judgment from himself to his professional corporation, Law Offices - North Dakota. In January 2015, the court denied Widdel's motion, concluding his one-lawyer professional organization did not relieve him of being held personally liable. The court further ordered that if Widdel failed to repay the fees, his professional corporation would be added to the judgment. In February 2015, after Widdel did not make payment, a supplemental judgment was entered against both Widdel personally and Law Offices - North Dakota jointly and severally in the amount of $95,000.

[¶5] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. The appeal is timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(a). This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § ...


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